Collective Punishment

Introduction

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Questioning Hashem's Justice

On two memorable occasions in Torah, leaders turn to Hashem to question His justice in punishing the innocent.  After being told of the impending destruction of Sedom, Avraham cries out to Hashem, "הַאַף תִּסְפֶּה צַדִּיק עִם רָשָׁע" (will you kill the righteous together with the wicked)? Similarly, during the rebellion of Korach, when Hashem tells Moshe to separate from the congregation, "and I will wipe them out",  Moshe responds by asking, "הָאִישׁ אֶחָד יֶחֱטָא וְעַל כׇּל הָעֵדָה תִּקְצֹף"?

Both Avraham and Moshe seem to be bothered by the possibility that Hashem might collectively punish the innocent together with the guilty.  It is not clear from either story, though, if this is what Hashem was really intending, nor if He changed His mind in the end.1  Does Hashem agree that collective punishment is wrong or is it actually an integral part of His mode of justice?

Biblical Cases of Collective Punishment

The above cases are by no means the only stories in Tanakh in which there seems to be collective punishment. From the flood in the time of Noach to the present day exile it seems that innocents often suffer with the wicked:

All these cases beg the question:  Is Hashem really not bothered when innocents suffer for the sins of others?  Why is collective punishment justified?  And if it is not, how are we to understand these stories?

Philosophical Considerations

The concept of collective punishment and reward is intricately related to several other philosophical issues:

Specific Circumstances

The above examples raise questions not only about the validity of collective punishment but also about its implementation:

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